Perceptions of Similarity Can Mislead Provenancing Strategies—An Example from Five Co-Distributed Acacia Species

Ecological restoration requires balancing levels of genetic diversity to achieve present-day establishment as well as long-term sustainability. Assumptions based on distributional, taxonomic or functional generalizations are often made when deciding how to source plant material for restoration. We investigate this assumption and ask whether species-specific data is required to optimize provenancing strategies. We use population genetic and environmental data from five congeneric and largely co-distributed species of Acacia to specifically ask how different species-specific genetic provenancing strategies are based on empirical data and how well a simple, standardized collection strategy would work when applied to the same species. We find substantial variability in terms of patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation across the landscape among these five co-distributed Acacia species. This variation translates into substantial differences in genetic provenancing recommendations among species (ranging from 100% to less than 1% of observed genetic variation across species) that could not have been accurately predicted a priori based on simple observation or overall distributional patterns. Furthermore, when a common provenancing strategy was applied to each species, the recommended collection areas and the evolutionary representativeness of such artificially standardized areas were substantially different (smaller) from those identified based on environmental and genetic data. We recommend the implementation of the increasingly accessible array of evolutionary-based methodologies and information to optimize restoration efforts